Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) voters across the country are emerging as a political force that can influence local and national elections, according to AAPI community leaders.
AAPI Equity Alliance (AAPI Equity) hosted a post-election debrief recently, with representatives from Asian Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote) and the Center for Asian Americans United for Self-Empowerment (CAUSE) joining them in discussing voter turnout and trends from the midterm elections in Los Angeles.
Local demographics in LA County show that more than 11% of all LA County voters, more than 639,000 voters, identified as AAPI. AAPI Equity, a coalition of community organizations based in LA, attributed the potential for this group of voters to sway future elections.
“In Los Angeles and elsewhere in the county and in the country, we know that the stakes are high and that we can make a difference when we turn out and where we turn out,” managing director of policy and counsel for AAPI Equity Candace Cho said. “… That is the margin of victory.”
Christine Chen, executive director of APIAVote, shared preliminary voter turnout data from Georgia, citing an increase of 20.4% in AAPI early voter turnout from 2018 to 2022. Voter engagement efforts, from translating mail to canvassing to phone banking, were to thank for, according to Chen.
“Our communities, when reached out to, really show up. And I think that voting matters, but also making sure that the information that our communities get is accurate and clear is important,” executive director for CAUSE Nancy Yap said.
Similarly, the increase of vote-by-mail ballots in the 2020 election was credited to an increase in the number of voters. During the 2020 election, a record voter turnout jumped to 59.5% compared to 49.3% in 2014.
“We know that in 2020, almost three out of four Asian voters voted early or by mail, which is larger than any other [racial] community,” Chen said.
However, the participating leaders acknowledged the challenges in AAPI voter outreach, given the diversity of languages and ethnicities within the community.
“AAPIs are not a monolith,” executive director of AAPI Equity Manjusha Kulkarni said.
Kulkarni also addressed concerns of AAPI politicians weaponizing ethnic and cultural differences in opposition to other AAPI candidates. In order to avoid this division, leaders agreed that youth engagement must be encouraged and misinformation should be avoided.
“If you get a campaign flier that you don’t agree with, you are welcome to call the campaign office and let them know,” Yap said.
In speaking on the methodology of voter and election data gathering, organizations like AAPI Equity promote research bodies, such as APIAVote, in providing a fair disaggregation of AAPI voter participation. Government agencies’ methods for disaggregating data are seen as outdated to such coalitions.
For example, the California Office of the Secretary of State determines ethnic and racial categorization by surname. In the debrief, participants stated that this system could misrepresent an individual’s actual ethnicity, given blended families, linguistic characteristics, marriages and more.
Godfrey Plata, a civic engagement consultant for AAPI Equity, stated that Californians should question why this methodology is still being used and how they can advocate for fairer data collection.
“I’m Filipino, my last name is Plata, so I get [election materials] in Spanish, Tagalog, and English, so I don’t often know how my name is being estimated,” Plata said. “As an organizer, it’s important that we have questions like this that have substantive and material implications for our community and work in tandem so that we can figure out how to make things more honest and authentic and real for data collection.”
Ultimately, increased voter education and engagement is showing signs of greater political influence in elections, according to Kulkarni. Los Angeles County recently passed Measure A, which grants the Board of Supervisors greater supervision over the sheriff, by a majority with the help of AAPI voters.
Vinny Eng, sibling of Jazmyne Ha Eng who was killed by a Sheriff’s Deputy in 2012, stated that the passage of the measure displayed the power and solidarity among AAPI, Black and Latino communities to hold law enforcement accountable.
“When we show up to protect community members and to hold law enforcement accountable for sheriff and police violence, we are preventing violence as low-income API individuals who might be subject to evictions and who might be subject to law enforcement entanglements that might jeopardize and put [us] into deportation proceedings,” Eng said.
With greater voter turnout, the AAPI community can bring attention to lawmakers issues that affect them, Chen stated.
“We are really relying on the API electorate to actually turn out because when you turn out, it increases our number,” Chen said. “It gets us more attention nationally, and then, that translates in terms of how effective we are in lobbying and advocating for our issues.”
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